We are coming up on the time when lots of writers are going to tuck away their introverted tendencies and venture into the world of conferences. There are several things that need to be considered when gearing up for a conference, but amid the anticipation and excitement, being a little mindful first can heighten your opinion of success.
If this is the first year you will be attending a conference, it can be really tempting to go to the places with the names that you have heard of before. Sure, the enticement to sit in the same room as a person you’ve loved for a long time can be real and strong, but I would argue that there is something that you should consider ahead of that. And it requires a bit of honest prep work.
Take an honest look at your writing
Where is your writing weak?
What do you know you need to fix but you don’t know how?
What have you read in other books that was done amazingly well, but you don’t know how to do yourself?
This step needs to be explored in regards to several different things, including:
- Character development
- Setting/world building
- Arcs of the character, the book, the emotion in the character, the emotion desired in the reader
Yes, there are other things in writing that need attention. But before you start to explore platforms or agents or editors or publishing options, you must make sure the thing you are writing is as good as you can get it.
Look at the descriptions of the class. What do the instructors promise to teach you? And research them out a bit. What kinds of credentials make this person a good person to teach you about whatever you need to understand better? You are paying good money to educate yourself – put in the due diligence to hone in on what you really need.
Be honest about where you are in your journey
When you first look at a schedule for a conference, it can be very VERY easy to go to the classes that talk about how to get published NOW! If you are still working on your first book, if you are in the drafting process of what you think is going to be “the” book, if you have just started putting together a plot, stop putting the cart before the horse. I can say this with good authority because when I first started writing, I’d heard the importance of having a blog and I immediately went home and started one. And the person who was teaching that class said that consistent content was the key to growing readership. So I posted three times a week.
Guess what happened to my fiction writing time? It was ALL going to writing blog posts and commenting on the blogs of others.
Yes, having an online presence is important. Yes, you need to build your writerly circle so you can continue to improve. But not at the expense of actually doing the writing that you profess having such a desire to do.
Writing conferences are reflecting on the needs to people from those who are just starting out to those who are releasing book five or ten or twenty. Everything CAN’T be for everyone at the same time.
Stay honest with yourself at the conference
Peer pressure exists even in adult settings. There can be a temptation to do more than you want, to drift from your plan, to get pulled into the excitement that may be the reason someone else went to the conference.
This can be tricky for someone who has introverted tendencies because we can flash back to high school, wanting to fit in, feeling like we have to be like others. And a little bit, conferences are a great place to step out of your comfort zone. But that doesn’t mean you have to abandon what you came for all together.
Have the courage to walk into a class that you really want to go to EVEN IF you don’t know anyone else in there.
Have the courage to decline a late night invitation (especially if you are not a night person *waves*) and not have a clear mind the next day if that was your plan.
Have the courage to approach someone you’ve only “met” online, to ask others where they are from, what they write, etc. to get to know other writers, info about different writing journeys, or for resources they may have used that helped you.
DO NOT ask people to read your book (whatever stage of writing you are in) within two seconds of meeting them. It’s tacky and unprofessional.
Trust the honesty of others
Have the courage to lower your writing defenses when someone gives advice about the journey, craft, characterization, etc. Remember people who teach the classes are there to help lots of people, not to simply validate what you may have thought about yourself. This can be really REALLY hard, but as someone who scrapped over 40k words and started over at the advice of a professional, I can vouch for the value of dropping the ego and listening.
Writers are some of the most generous and understanding people I’ve ever met. If they give you a piece of advice, take the time to think about it, figure out if it is something that will work in your life, but always ALWAYS know that it was given with the intent to help.
Do you have advice about attending writing conferences?
Tasha Seegmiller is a mom to three kids and coordinator of the project-based learning center (EDGE) at Southern Utah University. She writes contemporary women’s fiction with a hint of magic, and thrives on Diet Coke, chocolate and cinnamon bears. She is a co-founder and the managing editor for the Thinking Through Our Fingers blog as well as the Women’s Fiction Writers Association quarterly magazine, where she also serves as a board member. Tasha is represented by Annelise Robey of the Jane Rotrosen Agency.
3 thoughts on “Finding Success at Writing Conferences”
Oh man, this is brilliant advice, Tasha. Particularly the bit about not letting our introversion prevent us from attending the classes we most want/need. I have done that SO many times, and I’ve always regretted it. Choosing what’s best for us and our stories rather than our social life is HARD (especially if we don’t have much of a social life away from the conference . . . ahem), but on the (rare) occasions when I’ve been brave enough to do so, it’s paid off beautifully. 🙂
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Thank you. Like most of the advice I am able to give, I too have learned it through experience. Trying to give people a little encouragement to learn from my experiences instead of their own.
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Tasha, thanks for the reminders of what to do and how to do it at a conference. I, personally, love them. I’ve attended two–a one day and a huge international gathering. I enjoy pitching agents face-to-face and, though none have agreed to represent me yet, I did get requests from all I’ve pitched. One was for a full. So, cross your fingers for me. I attend two more this year.
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